22: 12 Mar: Exploring the Surface of Mars

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Exploring the surface of Mars
What can we learn about the ancient past of Mars from
measurements and observations on the surface?
Where we ended last time
• Liquid water cannot be
present on the surface of
Mars at the present time
• Nonetheless, pictures from
orbit show water channels
going through ancient
landscapes on Mars (2 types
of channels)
• Perhaps the climate of Mars
3-4 billion years ago was
conducive to the presence of
bodies of standing water
To see what people have in mind, let’s compare the
(relatively) well-known geological history of Earth with a
speculative history of Mars
A sketchy history of the planet Earth
An even sketchier history of the planet Mars
Prior to 2004… 2 theories about the
geological history of Mars
• “warm, wet Mars”: early in solar system history, a dense
atmosphere permitted higher temperatures and pressure,
and existence of bodies of liquid water. Early Mars might
have been similar to early Earth.
• “cold, dry Mars”: Mars has been about the same as now
for all of its history. The valley networks and outflow
channels show water flows, but they were short duration
floods rather than long lasting bodies of water
• An argument in favor of “cold, dry Mars”: the apparent
absence of carbonate rocks on the surface of Mars.
To resolve this required (and requires)
geological measurements, studies of
minerals in Martian rocks
Some minerals (hematite) form in
presence of standing water.
Others, (olivine) are destroyed by
water.
The Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) are mobile,
geological laboratories sent to see if Martian rocks are
lava flows (e.g. basalts) or minerals formed in the
presence of water.
The launch, interplanetary journey, and
arrival at Mars of an MER spacecraft
The journey to Mars of "Spirit"
Spirit and Opportunity on the Surface of Mars
Gusev Crater: the view from the surface
On a hill in Gusev crater
The Opportunity landing site
Sedimentary rocks on Mars
Opportunity finds hematite spheres…minerals
that condensed from water
Opportunity explores ancient sedimentary
rocks in Victoria Crater and other craters
A panorama of Victoria Crater from the MER
"Opportunity"
Take advantage of the marvelous
images in your textbook
• Figure 11.29…overhead view of Opportunity
at Victoria crater
• 11.28…panorama of Endurance crater
• 11.32…evidence of water waves (ripples) in
ancient streambeds
• 11.20…water gullies formed in a space a few
years
What have we learned from the MERs
and “Mars Phoenix”
• It now seems clear that there were standing
bodies of water for long periods of time early in
Martian history
• Evidence is presence of hematite, jarosite, and
other minerals that form in lakes or oceans
• Relative absence of carbonate rocks is due to
alternative chemistry in acidic water
• But, apparently oldest rock strata do contain
carbonate rocks and clay (montmorillonite)
In the future…Mars Science
Laboratory
Launch in fall, 2011, arrival fall 2012. Will make
tests for organic chemicals, biological molecules
The El Dorado of
future missions:
Mars Sample
Return
rom
Earth) in 2014.
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